Hydrofarm’s Kelley Ryan shares with us how best to play The Game of Clones. And win.
I’m sure you’ve heard experienced growers refer to their “mother plants.” This term relates to cloning (making cuttings), and you might be interested in the whys and hows of it all.
A mother plant is a plant grown for the purpose of propagation—the taking of cuttings in order to grow genetically identical “copies” (clones) of the same plant. So, let’s say you have the healthiest of plants with amazing fruits, and you would like to have many more plants that have the exact same characteristics. Well, make that favorite plant your mother, and take cuttings. Keeping a mother plant is a very popular practice among experienced growers who are looking for consistent results. It also significantly reduces your growing time due to the fact that cuttings take much less time to reach maturity than do plants started from seed.
You gotta baby that mama!
First, you need to take good care of your mother, so that she has healthy babies! A mother plant should stay in a constant vegetative state. In my garden, this means 18 hours of light/6 hours of darkness (some gardeners do 24 hours of daylight, but I want to save on electricity and I like to think I am giving my mother a “rest” during those dark hours). I keep my mother plant in her own stand-alone hydro system. This way I know she is well-fed and well-watered. I take care of her so that she will take care of me!
Taking cuttings the right way will also ensure her health. You don’t want to take so many cuttings that you leave her with nothing. You want to make sure the cuttings you take survive; it is possible to get 100% results!
The right stuff
- Rooting cubes
- Heat mat
- Cloning gel/liquid/powder
- Tray and dome
- Small light fixture, like a T5 unit
- Spray bottle
Make sure your work area is clean and it is important to keep your pruners and scalpel sanitized. I use alcohol. Don’t judge.
Step by step
- Cut a branch from your plant that is between 3-5 inches long. You want to have 2 nodes on the branch. (This is where the leaf is attached to the stem.) Two nodes are ideal, but one will work. I do this step with the scissors.
- With the scalpel, slice off any bottom leaves, leaving only the topmost, newest growth. With the scalpel, make a clean cut at a 45 degree angle. This reduces the risk of infection and increases surface area for root development.
- Dip the bottom (stem end) of the cutting in rooting hormone. If you are using a rooting gel, make sure to use only a very thin layer of gel, as you don’t want too much. (NOTE: Be sure to remove a bit of the rooting gel/liquid/powder from its main container to use for each round of cloning so that you are not dipping your cuttings into the main container of hormone, as doing that can contaminate the entire container and spread pathogens to future cuttings.)
- Place the cutting into your rooting cube of choice, pinching lightly around the base to make sure it stays upright.
Cutting care is crucial in the early days. Make sure you use a heat mat set to 75° F to 80° F,
as keeping the root zone warm will increase the survival rate of all of your cuttings exponentially. At the same time, however, you must make sure your root cubes do not dry out either. Keep a humidity dome over them constantly for the first 2-3 days, and mist once daily. You can add a mild fertilizer or compost tea to your mister.
Keep your T5 unit on for at least 18 hours per day.
As you hone your propagation skills, bear in mind that even some of the most experienced gardeners have occasional problems with cuttings. I’ve been lucky in my garden and get almost 100% rooted clones every time. I think a good thing to keep in mind is to take your time and keep it clean. They want to survive, you just need to be consistent and give them what they need without going overboard.